How many languages / What languages do you speak?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Giambattista, Feb 26, 2007.


How many languages are you fluent in?

  1. 1

  2. 2

  3. 3

  4. 4 or more.

  1. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

    How many words?
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  3. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member

    Giambattista: "If bi-lingual (or more), how and/or why did you learn those languages?"

    Living in multiple countries has been far more effective for me than language courses, although I did learn Russian that way in the military. Recency is the primary factor for me. Although my earliest schooling was in Arabic, my fluency in that language has severely atrophied over the years I've lived away from the Mideast. My most fluent languages are simply the ones I have used most recently.

    I have found it interesting how "forgotten" language skills do come back precipitously, provided re-immersion for only a matter of days. I tend to think in the language that I'm most surrounded by, and I suspect it's the attainment of such inner narrative that most enables fluency. I feel very fortunate to have been immersed in multiple languages when I was young, because there is much evidence that the brain's acceptance of new language-sets is wired up in our early mental development.

    I have known highly-intelligent and motivated people who have great difficulty learning new languages, and it seems that a monolingual upbringing has been the greatest hurdle. I suspect that there exists a related human trait involving cultural outlooks as well.

    The two seem intertwined for me. I find that when I think exclusively in another language, I also discover my own thoughts take on a different outlook. It's similar to the way different styles of music have very different ways of expressing a common feeling. Sounds and grammar express culture as recognizeably, and with deep nuance, like rhythm and melody.

    Gaining a new language may be greatly facilitated by approaching a new language or culture in a mentality of self-discovery- making a new language and culture your own. Children may not be cultural and linguistic savants, but they certainly do approach learning differently- embracing their new worlds as a matter of course, and far outperforming adults in structured language learning. I don't advocate learning languages as an "adult". Sitting in a classroom conjugating verbs seems ineffecient to me. Starting out like a baby, babbling for your life, and up through baby-talk (don't skip that part!) adolescence, formal speech, literature, etc. makes more sense to me. The full-sensory association and context that immersion in a new language provides can greatly accelerate learning. I think anyone considering adoptinng a new language should also consider at least a short period of total immersion in order to begin the journey most efficiently.

    I don't have the time or inclination to count words for the Fraggle Scale, but it's an interesting proposition to estimate one's present language skills. It's also interesting to compare where you've been with your skills, if you have lived around a quite a bit like me, and gone through changes in your brain's linguistic operating system.

    On an imaginary scale of 1-10, arbitrarily assigning 1 with complete ignorance of a language, 3 being conversational in social settings, 5 being conversational in professional/technical settings, and 10 being native and well-educated fluency. Here's where I think I am linguistically right now- It's a depressing tally if I allow myself to forget that getting it back is not so hard, provided a return to the fitting environment:

    English - 10
    Spanish - 6
    Czech - 5
    Russian -4
    Arabic - 3
    French - 3
    German -2
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2007
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Indeed. I had one year of German in college. "Scientific" German at that, useful stuff like, "The scientist heated the flask of acid with his Bunsen burner." Ten years later I found myself picking up a BMW motorcycle at the factory in München, and within a couple of hours I was speaking everything I knew and picking up new words quickly.
    I think there is also evidence suggesting that simply learning one additional language during childhood--whether at home or in class--keeps the brain in tune and makes learning the third one easier even if it happens in adulthood.
    My mother was raised speaking Bohemian (Czech as we call it now) in the Chicago ghetto. But in my day it was thought to be a disadvantage to be raised bilingually so she and her friends and relatives didn't even speak it around me. Fortunately they had done that when I was too small to talk back, thinking it wouldn't do any "harm," and the synapses for those foreign phonemes never atrophied. I may be the only American who can pronounce Dvorak correctly.

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    I was lucky that in Arizona in the 1950s Spanish was a required class in the 7th grade, but I do regret losing the advantage of learning a second language from birth.
    Unless you're a musician, sculptor, etc., the majority of your thinking is done in words. Our thoughts are limited by the limitations of our language. Chinese is not limited by the Stone Age paradigm of parts of speech, much less inflection. It only has nouns and verbs and relationships are expressed logically. I suspect that's why Chinese people are so adaptable.
    Then you really should study Chinese.

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    It's not hard using a logarithmic scale. If you have a high school education you know 10,000-20,000 words. A college education generally doubles that. High school classes give you 2,000 - 5,000, more if you're precocious. Again, college classes will double that. People like Winston Churchill are up around 70,000.

    Admittedly my scale does not adjust for lack of practice. I don't think it matters since as we both learned you can reattain your maximum level of fluency rather quickly and easily.
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  7. Echo3Romeo One man wolfpack Registered Senior Member


    English is my first.

    Fluent in "American" Spanish, with no discernible accent (I grew up on the New Mexico side of El Paso).

    Pretty good Korean thanks to some years stationed in South Korea at the UN garrison there. I can talk shit and throw out slang like I'm from the gutters of Texas Street in Pusan.

    I developed conversational Arabic prior to my sojourns in Afghanistan and Iraq, although the hajis always made fun of me when I was over there, lol. (I would have too.)

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    Every time I've visited a foreign country, I've felt like a tool if I didn't know the local language. It is amazing how pleasant foreigners became when I addressed them in their native tongue before transitioning to English.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I was sitting in a Cuban restaurant in L.A. forty years ago with a Mexican-American friend, listening to the Cubans talk, all of whom at that time were first-generation immigrants. To my ears (then), Spanish was Spanish (non-Castilian anyway). I asked him whether Cubans and Mexicans can tell each other apart by accent. He said, "Well actually you picked an atypical example because there are some noticeable differences. But among many of the other Spanish-speaking nationalities they can be almost impossible to tell apart, especially well-educated people who avoid colloquialisms. But boy, no matter where they're from, they can sure pick us Americans out."
    Most people consider that an insult to their language. They're just too polite to tell you so until they get to know you better.

    I was on the subway one night when some kid struck up a conversation with the Indian man across across the aisle. He said he had picked up some Hindi from his friends in college, and he started "talking some shit." All the Indians within earshot got really uncomfortable and were squirming and giving each other sidelong glances. Eventually he noticed. I said, "There's only one Indian word that you need to know: Namaste." They all immediately relaxed and smiled, bowed slightly, and said "Namaste" in unison. A light went on in his eyes. (Near as I can tell it has more connotative meaning than denotative, like "Shalom.")
  9. s0meguy Worship me or suffer eternally Valued Senior Member

    Dutch ,English and German for me.

    I can also speak French but not fluent and I never really used it.

    Basically we're supposed to learn 4 languages at school: Dutch, English and 2 languages that we can choose depending on which ones the school offers. Mostly German and French. Officially schools are allowed to teach at least all European languages, Arabic , Turkish, Hebrew and Russian that I know of. At the highest possible 'level' of high school (we call it "middelbare school" or 'middle school' which is divided in several levels of difficulty or rather study intensity. It's designed so that people perceived to have higher than average learning capability/intelligence attend the higher levels) you have to learn those 4 languages plus latin. Whatever good that is.

    I've had Spanish and Mandarin on my list of languages I want to learn for a while. I'm also interested in Arabic. I've quite a few of friends that speak that language plus I just like to learn languages.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2007
  10. whitewolf asleep under the juniper bush Registered Senior Member

    It's not really an insult on its own. When people say they picked up a bit of a language, it usually means they picked up some slang and curses, a sort of language they ought not use with strangers anyway. In addition, people are uncomfortable and at a loss for words when asked to speak their language merely for practice. Really, what would you say if someone came up to you and asked you to say something in English?
  11. whitewolf asleep under the juniper bush Registered Senior Member

    That's incredible. Is it confusing? In U.S. high schools, we're required to learn one foreign language and not all European languages are offered. In New York the language chosen for study is usually either Spanish or the language that matches the background from which the student comes.

    Learning many languages is relatively easy; at least it should get easier with each language that is mastered. Grammar is similar in principle and many words migrated from language to language. If you know English, you can already comprehend some French, Latin, and even modern Russian.
  12. s0meguy Worship me or suffer eternally Valued Senior Member

    It can be confusing when learning more than one language at the same time. But in usage no... and like I said. While all those languages are officially allowed to be taught at schools, like I said, at most schools you just get German and French. The schools in cities where there is a lot of ethnic diversity usually do allow much more languages.
  13. Scull Registered Member

    English. Does Latin count?? I know a decent amount.
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    If they were totally unfamiliar with English and just wanted to know what it sounds like, I'd recite the lyrics to a familiar song like "Yesterday" or "Me and Bobby McGee." Or depending on my mood, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. ("We, the people...") If they actually wanted to learn a tiny bit of the language I would look around and describe something we could both see. "Three women are walking toward that large building with their dogs." The last thing I'd present to them is profanity.

    It always bothered me when I walked across the border into Tijuana, the little Mexican kids would start cursing at me. They were innocent, those were the words the sailors taught them when they went down from the big Navy base in San Diego to get drunk and find prostitutes. (The drinking age is 21 in California and the only state in which prostitution is legal is Nevada.)
    Of course Latin counts! I counted Esperanto.

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  15. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    I put 1 because I can only fluently speak one language - and to top it off I grew up in a monolinguistic environment

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    That said, I studied Spanish, I can remember to count and say a few greetings. I studied Russian and I even thought I was pretty good at it, I visited Russia and I tried a couple phrases out and people seemed to know what I was saying

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    BUT I worked with a Russian women who said OMG your Russian is very very bad Michael! She could hardly understand a word I said?!?!

    Presently I am studying Japanese. I can speak a little and can get along in a conversation if someone is there to help me over the hurdles. I just started memorizing the next set of Chinese characters (kanji) I am on and that puts me a little over 1000 (meaning only). I actually find learning the kanji easier than memorizing the pronunciation of new words!?!

    Someday in the long far off future I have a plan to make a website to learn the Chinese characters. I know there are many out there but what the hell. It'd be fun

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  16. lucifers angel same shit, differant day!! Registered Senior Member


    i can speak 2 langauges english and welsh, i learnt welsh because i am welsh and english because that is the langauge i use every day because i now live in england

    Ddeisyfa pawb acha sci - forums da ddiwrnod!!
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    We all have languages that we've studied and can use, even if we don't qualify as "fluent." That's why I posted my Powers of Three scale, so you can count those.
    Many of the people who post on Linguistics grew up in bi- or multilingual homes, but that's not common among the general population. In most large countries it's extremely unusual to grow up with two languages. America is cursed with a bullying nativist movement that actually discourages it. I've met many people whose Spanish-speaking parents refused to teach the language to them, hoping it would help them assimilate faster.
    That gives you somewhere between 31 and 56 words and puts you between 3.0 and 3.5 on my scale.
    Well that just means you haven't quite mastered Russian grammar or pronunciation, neither of which is not for the faint of heart. You apparently know several hundred words and you can use them in sentences, and that makes you a 5.
    That's interesting. I am between 5 and 6 in spoken Chinese but I only recognize a couple of hundred han zi and can probably only write a few dozen of them. I would think that Japanese pronunciation would be much easier to learn than Chinese.
    Are you saying that you grew up speaking Welsh and only learned English later in life? I didn't realize that Welsh was the language of everyday life. It seems like in Ireland English is spoken most often and a lot of Irish people can't even speak Gaelic fluently--and Ireland isn't even part of the U.K.
  18. Echo3Romeo One man wolfpack Registered Senior Member

    Well, I fit in fine with the guys I worked and drank with (SK Army officers). I suppose that sort of lets you know why I did, though. Heh.
  19. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    OMG spoken Chinese is sooo difficult - I almost wonder if I am tone deaf because it's very difficult for me. Could you imagine Thai or Cantonese - geesh!

    For all of my Chinese friends I get their Chinese name and work really hard to memorize it. I hate the English names they sometimes pick. I'd rather go for the real deal. It's always a two or three syllable word anyway. I used to date a Chinese girl Lok-won ... aka: Lorraine

    I think the characters are fun to memorize (I use a story technique associated with each primitive/element). For now I am mainly just remembering the English meaning and I have to say it's pretty fun reading things in Japanese or to read a Chinese sign.

  20. wanneszinnig God doesn't work 2day Registered Senior Member

    Dutch 10
    English 8
    French 8
    Serbo-Croat 5
    German 4
    Russian 2

    Long live languages!
  21. wanneszinnig God doesn't work 2day Registered Senior Member

    the more languages you speak, the more interesting the world becomes!

    to je to!
  22. s0meguy Worship me or suffer eternally Valued Senior Member

    There's more people here that speak Dutch than english? Find that a bit difficult to believe lol...
  23. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    Believe what you want, the Dutch are taking over !

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